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Textbook Ephemeral

Nearly new Monet


   May 17

Nearly new Monet

A Monet painting which hasn’t been seen by the public in more than 100 years is being auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London on June 27. If you have 5 million pounds (around $7 million), you could be its next owner. The painting was first bought by Paul Gallimard from Monet himself, right after it was painted in 1890. Although M. Gallimard was generous enough to lend it to exhibitions over the next 5 years, his descendants were not, and hence it hasn’t been seen by anyone other than their family and friends since 1895.

The painting, “Meules, Derniers Rayons de Soleil” (that’s “Haystacks, Last Rays of the Sun” en anglais) is a striking one, with the haystack in question a deep red from the setting sun and casting dark shadows in strong contrast. Monet’s popularity has made him almost commonplace to us now, so that we don’t really see how extraordinary these works are. We now have the opportunity to see this “new” one with new eyes and really appreciate the brilliance of his technique and how daring his paintings were, especially more than a century ago. No-one before Monet had gone into the open air and studied the changing effects of light with such passion and dedication. (Even on his honeymoon, he was painting outside, and the National Gallery in London has a lovely painting he made of his new wife on the beach, in which you can actually see the sand that got blown onto it as it was painted.) This rediscovered painting is the opportunity of a lifetime to see the work of a master in a whole new light.

When I visited Monet’s house and garden at Giverny several years ago, I had a very old taxi driver who had been a young boy when Monet died in 1926 at the age of 86. He said that Monet wanted to be treated like one of the villagers, and had his coffin carried to the graveyard on the same old wooden cart as everyone else. He said, “Monsieur Monet was one of us.” It was a charming tribute to a humble genius. I hope Monsieur Monet knows that his paintings are still being seen and loved, and that he still has the power to surprise us.

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